WinInfo's Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman
headed to Las Vegas for the 20th anniversary of Fall Comdex. They
supplied frequent daily updates to this site from the show floor from Sunday through Thursday
during week, keeping readers up to date on the hottest news, products, and parties at the biggest computer trade show in North America!
Here is the transcript of that trip (and don't forget to check out our photo
gallery at the bottom of this page), as told live from the show floor...
Day one - Sunday, November 14, 1999
Paul and Keith arrive in Vegas
[11/14/1999 12:05:02 PM]
We're here, and we actually arrived early if you can believe it. For a city that is constantly growing, Vegas never really changes: themed hotels, glittery attractions and great weather abound as always. Off to lunch...
Windows 2000 RC3: Wednesday
[11/14/1999 2:15:31 PM]
We've only been in Vegas a few hours and we've already received word from several sources (some within Microsoft) that Windows 2000 RC3 will be delivered on Wednesday, November 17. Of course, we've been off before, so who can say?
Insider Insight: Windows 2000 delays due to application compatibility
[11/14/1999 3:09:28 PM]
According to sources close to the Windows 2000 team, the delays we've seen this fall were due to application compatibility. Most frightening, however, is that the Application Compatibility Project Manager was going through the internal bug reporting tool and downgrading "Priority 1" issues to "Priority 3" so that the daily counts of showstopper bugs would steadily go down whether or not actual work was being done. This activity was uncovered about a month and a half ago, so someone looked at all of the downgraded issues and gave them correct priority levels. Needless to say, it was discovered that the project was further behind than previously expected. As a result, a large number of people from the development and testing teams were shifted over to the Application Compatibility team; they've just started getting caught up again. Ouch!
Plans for Sunday night/Monday morning
[11/14/1999 3:18:20 PM]
We're going to be heading over to the Venetian Hotel in an hour for Microsoft CEO Bill Gates' keynote address. After that, we'll hit the Microsoft press reception in the Galileo room at the Venetian and then meet with some friends who are in town for the show. Tomorrow morning, we'll be attending 3dfx's press conference, which is expected to include the unveiling of the Voodoo4 3D graphics card. Then, it's off to see Microsoft president Steve Ballmer introduce Windows 2000 DataCenter Server at the Las Vegas Hilton, a meeting with Executive Software (makers of Diskeeper) and Microsoft's Windows 2000 Briefing event with Steve Ballmer and VP Jim Allchin. Somewhere in there, we'll get some floor time in and provide numerous updates as the day progresses. We've got a pretty full schedule, obviously, but that's what makes this fun.
ZD mishandles press at Gates keynote... again
[11/14/1999 11:18:14 PM]
Once again, the fumblers responsible for handling the press at the Bill Gates keynote had us running around in circles and waiting unnecessarily in the wrong groups. This is getting to be an endemic problem at the Gates keynote each year and we're sick of it. Anyway, we were able to sneak into the auditorium with the Microsoft employees, grabbing some of the few remaining seats reserved for the press. As it was, we should have been allowed in there an hour ahead of time, but at least we did make it in.
Gates keynote focuses on 'Personal Web'
[11/14/1999 11:21:44 PM]
"Anyone know any good lawyer jokes?" Microsoft CEO Bill Gates asked at the opening of his keynote address tonight at the Venetian. Once the crowds had calmed down, Gates launched into a standard speech about the change from the PC model to a world populated with a variety of computing devices. It was all pretty standard stuff, though an extremely funny video segment featuring Gates as "Austin Gates" and Steve Ballmer as Dr. Evil was appreciated. Gates pushed Windows 2000 hard and gave an incredible demo of load balancing on Windows 2000 Advanced Server. But much of the keynote, especially a horrifically fake XML application, was clearly pie-in-the-sky stuff, similar to his "Office of the future" keynote from years past. We're still waiting for that to happen. Gates also demonstrated Microsoft's "new" Office Online, which is simply Terminal Services and Office 2000 running over the Internet. In other words, it's nothing new, with a new name. Still, the "Personal Web" concept has some merit: Gates justifiably takes credit for enabling the Personal Computer era in the 1980's and sees the Personal Web as the next logical step for the industry.
Post-keynote reception brings out the Microsoft executives
[11/14/1999 11:32:49 PM]
At the post-keynote reception, we bumped into Microsoft executives Jim Allchin, Bob Herbold, Steve Ballmer and the instantly-mobbed Bill Gates, who was able to briefly reminisce about the "good old days" with VisiCalc creator Dan Bricklin. With the exception of Herbold, most of the MS execs cut out pretty quickly, leaving the press hordes behind with a melting Windows 2000 ice sculpture and the paltry finger foods that were made available. A couple of Windows 2000 demos kept things interesting for a few minutes, but there wasn't much going on once the luminaries left.
Day two - Monday, November 15, 1999
Good morning Vietnam!
[11/15/1999 7:06:14 AM]
Nothing like an early morning after a late night... the first day of exhibits opens today, but we're off to a 3dfx press conference at Madame Toussaud's Wax museum at the Venetian Hotel. Then, we'll be picking up our Olympus digital camera loaner. Then it's on to the show. See you there!
Windows 2000 RC3 update: Build 2182
[11/15/99 9:37:15 AM]
Expect to see RC3 this Wednesday as we noted yesterday. We're told that RC3 will be build 2182.
3dfx launches Voodoo4, Voodoo5 graphics accelerators
[11/15/99 9:45:55 AM]
The 3dfx press conference delivered on the expected product announcement, a slew of next-generation graphics accelerators that the company will dub Voodoo4 and Voodoo5. The Voodoo4 series features a single-chip (VSA-100) card with 32MB of RAM; it comes in AGP and PCI variants and will cost $180. For the gaming enthusiasts, 3dfx is releasing a line of Voodoo5 cards, including two and four chip variants with 64MB or 128MB of video RAM. The cards range in price from $230 to $600. All of the new 3dfx cards are due in early 2000. The 3dfx announcement was held at Madame Tousauds, an excellent British wax museum at the Venetian.
WinInfo gets digital camera for on-the-spot photo updates
[11/15/99 9:50:24 AM]
We grabbed our Olympus C-2000ZOOM digital camera a few minutes ago, which will allow us to grab live shots from the show floor and even some video if we can figure the darn thing out. We'll have to head back to the hotel and grab the laptop; none of the press machines at the Hilton have PC cards with which to connect the camera.
Linux Business Expo underwhelms
[11/15/99 1:23:15 PM]
The Linux community has a small mini-expo of its own under the Hilton, and while its much nicer than last year's laughable bargain basement affair, it's small size gives ample evidence of the lengths Linux must go to enter the mainstream. We walked around the Linux expo before the show started and came away underwhelmed, but we'll give it another shot later and see how the crowds are reacting. Check out our pre-show shots of the Linux Business Expo on our Comdex Photo gallery.
Comdex Fall '99 opens
[11/15/99 1:30:18 PM]
Fall Comdex '99 officially opened at 10:30 a.m. this morning when the doors at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Convention Center were open to the public. We were at the LVCC as usual, since it's usually the hotter of the two locations and Microsoft has its massive booth there. We've got some nice shots of the crowds waiting to get into the LVCC on our photos page.
Microsoft sports massive Comdex
[11/15/99 1:33:09 PM]
We didn't spend a lot of time in the Microsoft booth yet because it's right inside the front doors of the LVCC and that's where the crowds head first, but one thing obvious: Microsoft is pushing Windows 2000 to the max and their show presence is bigger than ever. Microsoft has historically dominated the show floor, but this year's show-within-a-show puts past years to shame. We'll have a closer look at Microsoft's offerings tomorrow or Wednesday.
Sony struts stuff with flat panel displays, memory stick products, and MP3 players
[11/15/99 1:35:28 PM]
Sony's booth was hotter than usual with an amazing array of beautiful new PCs and PC-related products, including a drool-inducing flat panel LCD display that's about half an inch thick. Also on display were its line of new desktop and portable PCs, all excellent, and a new family of portable music players that connect to PCs and sport small, beautifully-designed form factors. One model uses the ubiquitous Sony memory stick to store music portably, while the other, a pen-like device, uses a more conventional built-in Flash ROM.
Microsoft briefs press on Windows 2000
[11/15/99 4:27:27 PM]
Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Jim Allchin briefed the press Monday afternoon about the upcoming release of Windows 2000, set to launch on February 17. Originally scheduled as part of the Windows 2000 launch, the press briefing was a fairly subdued affair designed primarily at educating the media about this important release. The executives were very clear that Windows 2000 was on schedule for RTM by the end of the year (indeed, Allchin confirmed that RC3 would be released this week) and that the company would have no problem meeting the February 17 launch date. In the meantime, the company is working to make Windows 2000 as good as it can be, fixing problems, and improving performance.
Ballmer: Don't forget the desktop
[11/15/99 4:43:46 PM]
Microsoft president Steve Ballmer spent his presentation at the Windows 2000 Press Briefing touting the prowess of Windows 2000 Professional, which he says hasn?t yet received the exposure it deserves inside or outside of Microsoft. While Ballmer reiterated that Windows 2000 was designed solely for the business market, he acknowledged that a certain number of consumers are going to want the upgrade no matter what and that compatibility with consumer apps--such as games and educational software--will improve in the months following its release. Indeed, Ballmer hinted at a series of Windows Update-based application patches that would eventually make Windows 2000 Professional acceptable to many consumers. It was an interesting and unexpected presentation.
Allchin: Windows 2000 Server adds compelling improvements
[11/15/99 6:50:16 PM]
Windows 2000 Server adds a slew of reliability, scalability, availability, and manageability improvements that make it a compelling upgrade for any NT shop, said Microsoft VP Jim Allchin during his presentation at the Windows 2000 Press Briefing on Monday. And while Allchin stumbled over answers to some basic questions during the Q&A session, his presentation on the improvements to Windows 2000 was interesting because he finally provided information showing where NT has caused problems in the past. As suspected, the number one reliability problem for Windows NT 4.0 is device drivers, a situation that has obviously improved dramatically in Windows 2000. And other areas of concern, such as actual core NT issues and application faults, have been addressed in the upcoming release as well. Windows 2000, Allchin says, will require far fewer reboots than Windows NT, whether those reboots were planned or not.
Microsoft: No version of Windows 2000 without IE
[11/15/99 4:54:20 PM]
The first question asked at the Q & A session following the Windows 2000 Press Briefing opened a can of worms: What would Microsoft do if the DOJ sought an injunction seeking to block the sale of Windows 2000? Were they working on a version of Windows 2000 that doesn?t integrate Internet Explorer? Microsoft president Steve Ballmer?s answer was blunt: The company has no plans to offer such a product at all and has made no attempt to even address the issue. Ballmer noted an appellate court decision last year defending the integration of Windows and Internet Explorer while downplaying a decision against the company regarding Java, which he described as a completely different issue. Besides, the DOJ has already ruled out an injunction blocking Windows 2000.
Microsoft VP confirms RC3 "this
[11/15/99 4:58:53 PM]
Microsoft vice president Jim Allchin verified a report in WinInfo that Windows 2000 RC3 would be shipping this week. We reported yesterday that Windows 2000 RC3 was set to ship Wednesday.
Stick this: We've seen the future
[11/15/1999 7:10:04 PM]
As the crowds dwindled after the close of Comdex, we headed over to Sony's booth again for their annual press party. Sony's got a lock on the future, with an amazing array of products, both PC and consumer electronics, that are based around its excellent memory stick. The memory stick storage device is about the size of a stick of gum, but it can hold up to 64 MB of data. With its incredible product line-up, Sony is set to dominate.
Showstoppers delivers on cool hardware and software (oh, and shrimp)
[11/16/1999 11:02:26 AM]
The annual Showstoppers party was one of the best ever, with a collection of small and large computer companies showing their wares in the grand MGM conference center. Intel and Mattel were demoing their cool microscope for kids, which attaches to a PC using a USB cable. Techsmith, makers of the excellent SnagIt32, were on hand with a new screen camcorder and video production tool called Camtasia. But the product of the show had to be the shrimp. No wait. Actually, the product of the show was Compaq's iPaq, a $500 legacy free Internet device (they avoid the word "PC" for some reason) that we just WANT to own. It's gorgeous, it's cool, and it's good technology. And, perhaps of all, it's made specifically for Windows 2000. They're taking pre-orders now, so head over to Compaq Dot Com and see what all the fuss is about.
Our Private Idaho: HP/Compaq/Microsoft party
[11/16/1999 11:10:05 AM]
For our next party Monday night, we headed over to the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay to watch the B-52s and hang out with some guys from Microsoft. The event was put together by Hewlett Packard, Compaq, and Microsoft to benefit the United Negro College Fund and by all measures it was a huge success.
Exclusive Spencer the Cat party disappoints
[11/16/1999 11:17:09 AM]
The ultimate goal of anyone trying to get into the parties at Comdex is Spencer the Cat's exclusive and secretive yearly get-together. But sometimes the reality of a situation consumes the hype: This party, which was held this year in MGM's Studio 54, just plain stunk. We walked around for a few minutes with a couple of refuges from Microsoft and then blew out of there as quickly as possible. We headed back to the Hilton to gamble (a serious loss) and hang out.
Day three - Tuesday, November 16, 1999
Tuesday: Heading to the show
[11/16/1999 11:42:24 AM]
After a (ahem) late brunch, we're going to head over to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) today and check out the show floor. As you might have guessed, we woke up at the crack of 11 today, but we should be able to salvage the afternoon. Tonight, we've got the Silicon Northwest party and, perhaps, an Exabyte party, though that one's open to the public. The Micrografix Chili Cook-off is tonight as well, so maybe we'll check that out instead.
From the floor: Microsoft dominates, as usual
[11/16/99 4:12:40 PM]
Microsoft's presence at Comdex is always huge, but this year is bigger than ever. Even their partners got a theatre of their own. Microsoft is pushing Windows 2000, Windows 2000, and Windows 2000, but they've also got a bit of room for Office 2000, ClearType/Microsoft Reader, and even a "freedom to innovate" booth that we won't touch with a ten foot pole.
Microsoft shows off Windows 2000
[11/16/99 5:01:25 PM]
We sat through a number of demonstrations about Windows 2000 on both the server and the desktop. While most of this information wasn't exactly news to us--we've been beta testing Windows 2000 for over two years now--it's interesting to see the information campaign that Microsoft has unleashed. Windows 2000 is such a huge product that it's hard to wrap one's mind around it: Microsoft has its work cut out for it trying to make Joe Average understand this behemoth.
The Palm is not enough? Give us a break
[11/16/99 5:11:24 PM]
One of Microsoft's lamest Microsoft demos this afternoon was called "the Palm is not enough," a take-off on the new James Bond movie, "The World Is Not Enough." Microsoft attempted to explain why a color Palm PC running Windows CE simply blows away a Palm Vx, with its color screen, voice and music capabilities, and the like, but the awful actors and mind-numbing Bond puns just ruined the whole argument. We want that half hour of our lives back, Microsoft.
Microsoft partners show off Windows 2000 Ready PCs
[11/16/99 5:14:49 PM]
Microsoft PC maker partners such as Compaq, IBM, Dell, Gateway, Toshiba, and others had mini-booths inside of the Microsoft Partners Pavilion, showing off their upcoming lines of Windows 2000 Ready PCs. These boxes are simply awesome: Virtually every manufacturer was sporting a flat panel-equipped legacy-free (or near legacy free) device with a small footprint and an attractive form factor. Prices are right, too: Most of these machines, including a 15-18" flat panel display will retail for under $2000.
Microsoft handing out Project 2000 beta CDs
[11/16/1999 5:46:08 PM]
Microsoft is handing out Project 2000 beta CDs to everyone visiting their booth here at Fall Comdex, but you can also order them from the Web if you didn't have a chance to visit Vegas this year. Best of all, the first 5,000 requests are free! Check it out on the Microsoft Project 2000 Beta Web site.
Day four - Wednesday, November 17, 1999
Off to McNealy keynote...
[11/17/1999 7:04:51 AM]
We actually got up at a decent time today so we could catch Sun CEO Scott McNealy's keynote, which is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. today. There are huge purple billboards all over town stating, "Scott McNealy doesn't want your money," and "software should be free" (you know, like Solaris), so this one should be interesting.
McNealy: Comdex shouldn't exist
[11/17/1999 11:42:36 AM]
Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy took the stage for his keynote address at the Venetian in rare form, busting on Microsoft, the antitrust trial and his pet peeve: the PC. The ever-humorous McNealy unleashed a barrage of anecdotes and jokes, from the music "Breaking up is hard to do" ("appropriate for this keynote, I've had a good couple of week," he joked) to "Anyone hear any good monopoly jokes lately?", a take-off on Gates' lawyer joke during his own keynote. McNealy unveiled a top 10 list of what would happen should Microsoft buy 20% of Las Vegas (samples: "Every fourth pull, you have to reboot the slot machine," "showgirls strip down to their Visual Basics," and "headquarters for Windows 2000 moves to the Mirage") and casually talked up Solaris, Java, Jini, and StarOffice/StarPortal. Indeed, StarOffice was all over the place during and after the keynote: Sun representatives are handing out free copies of the software all over Comdex. McNealy's message was clear: the operating system and applications industries shouldn't even exist. And, of course, that means Comdex wouldn't exist either. All in all, his talk was dead-on entertaining, with a "blue screen of death" movie and a GM/Cadillac Seville demo.
McNeally: Microsoft should be broken up
[11/17/1999 11:50:24 AM]
Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy offered up what had to be the clearest set of guidelines that Microsoft must follow lest it be broken up by the U.S. government. The comments came during a press Q & A session following his keynote address. McNealy said that Microsoft should be allowed to settle only if it agreed to be precluded from transparent pricing, exclusionary licensing agreements, and leveraging its monopoly power to enter new markets. Additionally, Microsoft should be required to open its monopoly APIs to Windows and Microsoft Office. When asked what should happen if Microsoft refused, he said that the company was "incorrigible and unrepentant" and "they've got to break 'em up because Microsoft doesn't get it." "Innovate for once," he said, noting that Microsoft falls back on an argument about innovation despite the fact that no one ever accused them of that.
Sands expo show floor mostly disappointing
[11/17/1999 6:34:57 PM]
The smaller than usual show floor at the Sands Expo and Conference Center, which is the second of the two conference centers used by Fall Comdex, was subdued as usual, with only a few highlights. Be Incorporated was showing off its wonderful multimedia operating system, the Be OS, to crowds so large that they were pouring into surrounding displays. Not bad for a "fringe OS." Meanwhile, the only other major display at the Sands was run by Creative, which was demonstrating its new and upcoming Nomad personal audio device, SoundBlaster Live Platinum Edition, and 3D Blaster Annihilator, which is based on NVIDIA's GeForce256T 3D chipset.
Intel shows off PC prototypes
[11/17/1999 7:18:57 PM]
Intel Corporation was showing off a slew of future PC prototypes, devices that drop the legacy hardware of the past for cool shapes and USB/IEEE 1394 connectivity. For some pictures of these interesting devices, please check out our Comdex photo gallery.
Day five - Thursday, November 18, 1999
And Comdex makes 2. Well, 205,000 to be exact
[11/18/1999 1:16:16 AM]
According to Ziff Davis, which hosts the show, 205,000 people traveled to Las Vegas this week to see Comdex Fall 1999. That's a pretty substantial drop-off in attendance from previous shows, which were estimated as high as 250,000. Of course, these attendance estimates are always a bit high anyway, but it's clear that Comdex doesn't have the cachet it used to.
Final day ahead
[11/18/1999 1:21:15 AM]
We're going to try and get a few more hours in at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) Thursday morning before heading back to the East Coast. The LVCC has the best booths, but we haven't really had the time to spend there that we'd like. Hopefully, we'll be able to cover everything in the time we have left.
Corel Linux jumps into ease of use lead
[11/18/99 12:03:47 PM]
Corel Corporation unveiled it Debian/KDE-based Linux distribution this week, a stunning example of ease of use and desktop prowess. Corel Linux takes all of ten minutes to set up, using only four screens. And once you're in the graphical environment, a host of user-friendly features, including seamless NT network integration through a nice new file/network browser called Corel File Manager, sets this distribution heads and shoulders above the Linux pack. Other nice features include NT authentication, Corel Update for FTP/network system updates, and more. Corel Linux is now available for free; standard and deluxe versions will soon be available at retail. If you're into Linux, this is a must-see.
Best of Comdex: Sony Corporation
[11/18/99 2:21:03 PM]
Sony's pervasive use of memory stick technology throughout its PC and consumer electronics products gives this company the edge in the coming age of digital integration. Though use of memory stick products--expected to reach capacities of 256 and 512 MB in 2000--is currently limited to Sony's products, it's good enough for the rest of the hardware world to sit up and take notice. And Sony's products aren't just good, they're world-class. It's impossible to walk by its VAIO desktops and notebooks without drooling, and their new MP3-based Walkman products are top-draw. This is a company that just gets it.
Worst of Comdex: ZD Events
[11/18/99 2:19:38 PM]
When are the clueless "planners" at ZD Events going to figure out a way to handle the press at the Gates keynote? We don't want to be treated special, but we also don't want to be let into the conference hall after the general public and well after ZD's own reporters. Shame on you all.
Best software: Corel Linux
[11/18/99 2:17:51 PM]
Corel's sudden entry into the Linux market is a tour-de-force. With seemless Windows interaction, an excellent file/network browser, and ease-of-use improvements you won't see in any other Linux distribution, Corel Linux is a winner.
Best hardware: Sony flat panel display
[11/18/99 2:15:44 PM]
Sony's new SDM-N50 flat panel display, an ultra-slim 15" unit in stylish gray shades, is a winner. Sure it's a bit steep at $1500, but you get what you pay for: This is the nicest 15" flat panel we've ever seen.
Best moment: Scott McNealy's keynote/press Q&A
[11/18/99 2:14:19 PM]
What can we say? This guy makes us laugh and he's got the right idea about Microsoft's legal problems. Maybe the DOJ should give Scott a call when it's time to deal out judgement from above.
Worst moment: Stage crash at Gates keynote a portend for future?
[11/18/99 2:12:52 PM]
Seconds before Microsoft CEO Bill Gates took the stage for his annual keynote address, a Comdex Fall 99 sign came crashing down to the stage, causing a moment of shocked silence. A harbinger of things to come?
Best private party: Showstoppers
[11/18/99 2:11:20 PM]
What can we say, the shrimp put showstoppers over the top. Well, it wasn't just that: A lot of cool companies were showing a lot of cool products as well. But damn, the shrimp.
Worst private party: Spencer the Cat
[11/18/99 2:08:05 PM]
It's time for ZD's flustered flea-bag to give up the party biz. Spencer the Cat's party was easily the weakest moment of the entire week.
Fall Comdex 1997 Photo Gallery
Monday, November 15, 1999
Shot one and two of Paul using an iMac(!) in the Hilton press room. Apparently hell froze over!
Linux Business Expo entrance, Hilton.
Red Hat booth in the Linux Business Expo.
Sony has two new portable MP3 players, including this pen model.
Keith modeling a 64MB memory stick, which Sony uses in a variety of devices.
The Compaq iPaq, a legacy-free PC we saw at Showstoppers Monday night.
Some foot relief with Nintendo 64 games.
Here are some shots of Microsoft's booth:
Windows 2000 Theatre
"The Palm is Not Enough"
Windows CE/Sega Dreamcast
The Freedom to Innovate
Microsoft Project 2000
Office 2000 Theatre
Windows 2000 Active Directory
Prototype Windows terminals
MSN Web companions
Windows 2000 Ready PCs
Inside the Compaq iPaq
Sun CEO Scott McNealy delivers his humorous keynote. Shot one and two.